General News Melbourne, Australia

Star hurdlers Oliver and Pearson to kick off IAAF World Challenge in Melbourne

David Oliver wins the 110m hurdles in Melbourne (Getty Images)David Oliver wins the 110m hurdles in Melbourne (Getty Images) © Copyright

World 110m hurdles champion David Oliver and Olympic 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson are among the top names revealed today (5) by Athletics Australia for the first leg of the 2014 IAAF World Challenge series in Melbourne on 22 March.

They will be joined by world 400m champion LaShawn Merritt, world 100m finalist Mike Rodgers and Australia’s world 4x400m finalists Alex Beck, Tristan Thomas and Craig Burns.

All seven athletes will also compete at the Sydney Track Classic on 15 March, while Merritt will also toe the line at the Perth Track Classic on 22 February.

The IAAF Melbourne World Challenge is the first of the 15 meetings in the IAAF World Challenge series, which also includes competitions in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Oliver has only once before travelled to Australia, winning in Sydney and Melbourne in 2009. The former US record-holder has been undefeated since July last year with his winning streak also including his victory at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

His triumph in the Russian capital was his first global title, having come close on several previous occasions. Before heading to Australia, the 31-year-old will attempt to add another gold medal to his collection at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot.

“Australia is one of my favourite destinations and I am pumped to get back out there again,” said Oliver, who will be up against Australian champion James Merlino, world junior silver medallist Nick Hough and the rapidly improving Sam Baines.

“I had the chance to run in Melbourne and Sydney back in 2009 and it was great. The exciting thing for me is that this time I’m coming out as the world champion and I hope to take the Aussie contingent to qualifiers for the Commonwealth Games when we race. I want to test them, and make sure they are on form ahead of the Australian Trials.”

Merritt is also no stranger to Australia, having competed in Sydney and Melbourne in 2007, but Rodgers will be making his Oceanian debut.

"It will be my first time in Australia. I've heard so much about it from other athletes and I’m looking forward to getting some sun on my back after a cold old winter in the USA and Europe,” said Rodgers, a four-time US champion and 2010 world indoor 60m silver medallist.

"In many ways, 2013 was my best year. I know that sprinting requires patience and I feel that my very best years are still in front of me. I am consistently running under 10 seconds and firmly believe that I have a date with my destiny in 2016.”

Meanwhile, Pearson will be a crowd favourite. After a 2013 season which has hampered by injury, the 2011 world champion will look to get back to winning ways on home soil.

Organisers for the IAAF